Hayden Donnell identifies who did well, and who got massively owned, in the 2019 local elections.
The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism, click here.
Most of these winners and losers lists fail to capture the nuances of election humiliation. They opt to lump all democratic downtrous into one big pot of loserdom. Here at The Spinoff, we understand that not all embarrassments are equal. In recognition of that fact, we’ve sorted out the saddo wheat from the loser chaff, and come up with a list that notes the subtleties of electoral pant-crapping. These are the winners, losers, big losers, and gigantic losers of the local elections.
Hamilton has spent three years writhing in the grip of some of New Zealand’s most embarrassing councillors. James Casson infamously said the Christchurch terrorist wins with “each tear shed” for his victims. Garry Mallett used homophobic slurs in a council meeting, and has consistently opposed Māori representation on council. Both are climate deniers. So is Leo Tooman. Meanwhile, Siggi Henry wore an anti-vax t-shirt to an autism fundraiser.
All four of those candidates were voted out on Saturday. Their replacements include Sarah Thomson, a lawyer who sued the government for failing to meet its climate change targets, and Kesh Naidoo-Rauf, a local pharmacist who went to Christchurch to volunteer in the aftermath of the March 15 massacre.
Our most famous filmmaker (non-Taika Waititi division) has ushered his favoured Wellington candidate to the mayoralty with the wileyness of Gollum leading Frodo into Shelob’s lair. Sir Peter bankrolled the campaign of 27-year council veteran Andy Foster, helping him out-fundraise incumbent mayor Justin Lester by a margin of 5-1.
Maybe there’s some doubt as to the democratic impact of Jackson’s largesse, but this election should be a lesson to any aspiring Wellington politicians: don’t even think about defying the Lord of Miramar again.
People who write jokes about Peter Jackson
Once again, ‘having the job already’ was the best predictor of whether you’d win a job in local elections around New Zealand. Incumbents were re-elected in many of the mayoral races, with John Carter, Phil Goff, Lianne Dalziel, and Tim Shadbolt leading the charge.
But it was in the down-ballot races where incumbents truly thrived. In Auckland, at least 16 of the 20 incoming councillors will be incumbents, and two of the four changes were forced by retirement. Christine Fletcher got re-elected despite spending a good proportion of the campaign on holiday in France. Name recognition counts for a lot in elections where nobody knows the candidates.
Phil Goff’s campaign launched with a sound more half-hearted than a whimper. His first announcement was that he would put rates up by an average amount. His biodegradable billboards fell apart in the spring rain. You couldn’t see his name on them anyway. At his official campaign launch, Jackie Clarke observed the energy in the room and decided to take matters into her own hands. She performed a full six-minute version of Bohemian Rhapsody, only without Freddie Mercury’s trademark restraint.
I just need you to know that Phil Goff’s campaign launch has just concluded with Jackie Clarke doing a full 6 minute performance of Bohemian Rhapsody pic.twitter.com/iJslodDF72
— Hayden Donnell 4 Mayor (@HaydenDonnell) August 18, 2019
No wonder it looked like John Tamihere had the better of him in the early going. Goff’s leading challenger took the fight to him, knocking him off balance with a series of attention-grabbing announcements. Tamihere stole the limelight. Sucked up all the oxygen in the room. The mayor clawed his way back, partly through his own committment to the democratic drudgery of debating and meeting voters, and partly because of his opponent’s tendency to shoot himself in the foot, leg, chest and face. Goff won by 80,000 votes. He’s a winner. But it’s hard to say he was inspiring. At his election party, I asked him for the one big project he’d be most proud of achieving in the coming term. “Further progressing the development of world-class infrastructure in this city,” he said. At least Tamihere dreamed big.
The Green Party
Dunedin’s Aaron Hawkins became New Zealand’s first official Green Party mayor. He suffered several setbacks on the campaign trail, including being democratically shanked by environmentalist Jim O’Malley, having to cower in fear of potential Lee Vandervis outbursts, and being rated ‘four snakes’ by The Spinoff’s snake rating. Still, he battled through to win a classic STV victory. Is this a sign that the Green Party will fare well at the 2020 General Election? No.
Alex Casey Sophie Handford
Sophie Handford, who is not Alex Casey, is the national coordinator behind School Strike 4 Climate, and now, a councillor for the Kāpiti Coast. You can read Alex’s interview with her here, but in summary, she’s really smart and probably our only hope.
Handford is one of a number of excellent and potentially excellent young candidates elected across the country. Others include Tamatha Paul, Teri O’Neill, Toi Iti, Aaron Hawkins, Fisher Wang, Sarah Thomson, Richard Hills, Tania Tapsell and Rohan O’Neill-Stevens.
Aggressive local campaigns shaped the makeup of at least two local boards in Auckland. On the North Shore, Ruth Jackson and Trish Deans made it onto the Devonport-Takapuna board after leading a long-running fight to stop a huge carpark in the centre of Takapuna being turned into something better. In Albert-Eden, the local board looks like it will be controlled by the right-wing ticket Communities and Residents. Its candidates were buoyed by the support of a crew of local golfers fighting to stop the division of Chamberlain Park.
If Dunedin’s local election had been run under First Past the Post, Lee Vandervis would have won. The outburst-happy councillor has the single largest bloc of support in the city. Today Aaron Hawkins is mayor because people who voted for the progressive candidates like Christine Garey picked him as their second or third option under the STV system. In the end, Hawkins’ margin of victory was just over 1700 votes. A significant majority of Dunedinites preferred him to Vandervis.
That’s one of the clearest examples of STV working to make results more true to voters’ actual preferences, but it’s not the only one. Wellington also ran its elections under STV, and has an incoming council that for the most part reflects the communities it represents.
Craig Lord launched his campaign for the Auckland mayoralty by announcing a policy of having no policies. By the end of the race, he was tweeting out overt climate change denial, edging toward becoming an Agenda 21 conspiracy theorist, and most damningly, officiating a steampunk wedding.
Those might seem like disastrous electoral positions, but Lord managed to secure 25,000 votes – a similar amount to Chlöe Swarbrick in 2016. Special mention should also go to John Hong, who won 14,600 votes, and Ted Johnston, who got 13,600, though it’s possible some of those came from people who feared failing to vote for him would see them chopped up with an axe.
Goff’s leading contender suffered a resounding defeat. Part of that was down to a series of self-inflicted wounds. His campaign messaging was confusing, some of his promises could generously be described as ambitious, and he said ‘sieg heil’ during a debate, which is arguably too Nazi.
But he’s not a bigger loser because, for all its faults, the Tamihere campaign was hard-working. It had more volunteers than Goff, a more expansive ground-game, and a giant truck with his face on it. Tamihere himself went to battle with Goff in roughly 4364 debates, coming up with many new insults for each one. He and his team fought hard, and they lost by 80,000 votes.
Though anger managed to swing local board seats across the country, it was less successful in more high-profile election races. John Carter remains mayor in the Far North, despite a boisterous campaign to unseat him., Phil Goff was also re-elected, despite pockets of Boomers all over the city being extremely pissy at him over everything from bike paths to plans to change a carpark in Takapuna. Nearly all of Tim Shadbolt’s councillors became democratic Judas Iscariots and he’s still around. It takes some real screwing up to get a sitting mayor ousted. To understand the scale of disaster necessary, see Mike Tana (spiralling expenses scandals), Michael Feyen (entire council turned on him) and Justin Lester (bad buses, too handsome, Peter Jackson, Wellington, everything).
Denise L’Estrange Corbet
Denise L’Estrange Corbet failed to make it onto the Waitematā Local Board. This is a true and accurate summation of the facts. Similarly accurate sentences are available in Madeleine Chapman’s investigation into the true origins of WORLD’s clothing.
Shane Henderson was voted in as a councillor for Waitakere. His partner, Brooke Loader, was voted onto the Henderson-Massey local board. Their baby, James, has not taken the news well.
Independent progressive candidate Victoria Tupou ran an enthusiastic, engaging campaign in the Owairaka subdivision of the Albert-Eden local board. She won 2757 votes in the preliminary count – respectable but not enough to win a seat. Meanwhile, incumbent City Vision board member Graeme Easte was three votes behind his C&R rival Monique Poirier. The result may change in the final counting, but it’s possible he would’ve defeated Pourier outright if Tupou hadn’t stood, thus narrowing the field of progressive candidates.
That’s stupid! It illustrates one of the problems with FPP. People should be encouraged to stand in local elections. Voters should be able to support the candidates they like without worrying about vote-splitting. STV all-but eliminates the issue of ‘tactical voting’ by employing a ranking system (you can read more about how it works here and here). Some people think the system is too confusing for low-information local elections, but the alternative is having more results that fail to reflect what communities actually want.
Tip for next time: Don’t elect a councillor that posts stuff like this to Facebook.
Lester became the first Wellington mayor in 33 years to lose after just one term. Under Wellington law, he must now allow Sir Peter Jackson to tattoo an L on his forehead, and then sit in the bucket fountain for a full 24 hours. If he survives, he will be allowed to run again in 2022. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.
People who do not like Peter Jackson jokes
People who don’t like Peter Jackson jokes are feeling worse than Sean Bean after the orcs shot him with all those arrows!
Auckland’s grouchiest councillor looks set to be defeated after 27 years in local government. Once known as a public transport champion, Lee has spent three terms opposing apartment developments in rich people places, staunchly advocating for historic trains to run around Wynyard Quarter with no-one on them, and saying no to a lot of things. If the result in Waitematā holds, and Pippa Coom retains her narrow lead, Lee will be remembered for some great achievements. Unfortunately, too few of them will be from the last nine years.
One of local democracy’s greatest buddy acts has come to an end. Horowhenua District Council mayor Michael Feyen has been turfed out of office after spending much of the last term trying to install his council pal Ross Campbell as deputy mayor, against the express wishes of his resentful council. Meanwhile, Campbell has retired. The pair may not have votes, but they have each other. Hopefully they have more time to water the flower of their friendship away from the council table.
political & climate reportersFind Out More
Turnout wasn’t the disaster people thought it’d be, with preliminary figures from Local Government NZ indicating 44% of people casting a ballot nationwide. On the other hand, 44% is still really bad! In several major urban centres, things were more disastrous. Auckland’s turnout looks set to be in the low 30s. Wellington was down from 45.6% in 2016 to around 36%.
It’s clear things need to change. Postal voting is anachronistic in the year 2019. Online voting won’t be a panacea, but maybe people’s last-minute rush to find physical ballot boxes is an indication more are needed in places where people actually go, like supermarkets. One-stop shops across the country might also help. The Electoral Commission could be given a mandate to increase participation in local elections, like it is for central government elections. Maybe we could have more civics education. Lastly, it would be great if the charred wreckage of our media could afford to cover councils properly. On that note, you can sign up to The Spinoff members here.
The Spinoff’s local elections team
These sad nerds spent so much time thinking about local elections! I’m writing this list on the morning after The Spinoff founder Duncan Greive’s 40th birthday party, plumbing depths of misery I barely knew existed. Alex Braae is similarly hungover in Wellington, writing cheat sheets about Andy Foster. I haven’t heard from Josie Adams or Alice Webb-Liddall. I fear for them. These writers have been heroically, stupidly committed to covering local democracy, even in the face of a public who repeatedly told them they don’t care, and to stop. They are truly the most irredeemable bunch of losers in the world and I appreciate them all greatly.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.